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Characteristics of the Effective Helper
When comparing yourself to each of the 9 characteristics in Ch. 1: empathy, acceptance, genuineness, embracing a wellness perspective, cultural competence, the “It” factor, belief in one’s theory, competence, and cognitive complexity, follow the directions below:
1. organize the written portion of your paper with an Introduction, a Summary at the end, and 2 sections in between. You will also need to use at least 3 professional sources for this paper, and these should be listed on a separate Reference Page at the end of your paper.
2. In the first section of this 5 to 7 page double spaced paper, APA format (not including the title page and the Reference Page), list each characteristic from the paragraph above, and provide a definition of each (use 3 sources at least, for this information).
3. In the second section of this paper, describe what you can do to strengthen 3 characteristics within yourself. This will require some research, some careful self-reflection, self-awareness, and honesty. Include one goal behavior/action for each characteristic, that you will work to accomplish within the next 3 to 6 months. Be very specific. The more specific you can be about each goal (ie: what will this require of you, within yourself, and what you will do to “get there” on each one. Discuss your goal in terms of your strengths and weaknesses, and how these will impact your being successful in meeting your goal.
See below the 9 characteristics that need to be listed in the paper. This information can also be found in the textbook: The World of a counselor: Introduction to the counselors Profession by E. Neukrug, 2016 10th edition; Chapter 1: The Counselor’s Identity what who and how. Please be sure to use the textbook along with 3 other professional resources.
Characteristics of the Effective Helper
In 1952, Hans Eysenck examined 24 uncontrolled studies that looked at the effectiveness of counseling and psychotherapy and found that “roughly two-thirds of a group of neurotic patients will recover or improve to a marked extent within about two years of the onset of their illness, whether they are treated by means of psychotherapy or not [italics added]” (p. 322). Although found to have serious methodological flaws, Eysenck’s research did lead to debate concerning the effectiveness of counseling and resulted in hundreds of studies that came to some very different conclusions, such as the following:
It is a safe conclusion that as a general class of healing practices, psychotherapy is remarkably effective. In clinical trials, psychotherapy results in benefits for patients that far exceed those for patients who do not get psychotherapy. Indeed, psychotherapy is more effective than many commonly used evidence-based medical practices.…( Wampold , 2010a, pp. 65–66)
But what makes counseling effective? First and foremost, factors such as readiness for change, psychological resources, and social supports may affect how well a client does in counseling (Lambert & Barley, 2001). Although such client factors are clearly important to positive outcomes, the counselor’s ability to work with the client is equally critical. When looking specifically at the counselor, there has been recent emphasis on matching research-based treatment methodologies to the unique issues that the client is presenting. Called evidence-based practice (Thomason, 2010), this approach has become commonplace in training clinics. However, it has also become clear that specific counselor qualities, sometimes called common factors, seem to be at least as important as matching a treatment approach to a presenting problem (Wampold, 2010a, 12010b, 2010c; Wampold & Budge, 2012).
One common factor, the ability to build a working alliance (Norcross, 2011), has been alluded to by almost every counselor and therapist from Freud to the modern-day, new age counselor. Based on the research (and perhaps some of my own biases), this working alliance may be composed of the following six components: empathy, acceptance, genuineness, embracing a wellness perspective, cultural competence, and something that I call the “it” factor. Another common factor that may be important to positive client outcomes includes one’s ability to deliver a theoretical approach. Here, I suggest that there may be three components: belief in one’s theory, competence, and cognitive complexity. Let’s take a look at all nine of these essential components, which may be related to the working alliance and one’s ability at delivering a theoretical approach (see Figure 1.2).
More than any component, empathy has been empirically shown to be related to positive client outcomes and is probably the most important ingredient to building a successful working alliance (Elliot, Bohart, Watson, & Greenberg, 2011; Norcross, 2010). Understanding our clients, or being empathic,
…means that the therapist senses accurately the feelings and personal meanings that the client is experiencing and communicates this acceptant understanding to the client. When functioning best, the therapist is so much inside the private world of the other that he or she can clarify not only the meanings of which the client is aware but even those just below the level of awareness. Listening, of this very special, active kind, is one of the most potent forces of change that I know.
Whether one can truly understand the inner world of another has been discussed for centuries and was spoken of by such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle (Gompertz, 1960). However, Carl Rogers (1957) is given credit for bringing this concept to life in the twentieth century. With respect to the counseling relationship, understanding through empathy is seen as a skill that can build rapport, elicit information, and help the client feel accepted (Egan, 2014; Neukrug, Bayne, Dean-Nganga, & Pusateri, 2013).
Acceptance, sometimes called positive regard, is another component likely related to building a strong working alliance (Norcross, 2010). Acceptance is an attitude that suggests that regardless of what the client says, within the context of the counseling relationship, he or she will feel accepted. Just about every counseling approach stresses the importance of acceptance (see Neukrug, 2011). For instance, person-centered counseling suggests that one of the core conditions in the helping relationship is unconditional positive regard, or the ability to accept clients with “no strings attached.” Behavior therapists suggest that issues cannot be discussed and goals cannot be developed if clients do not feel accepted by the counselor or by themselves. Solution-focused brief therapy stresses the importance of acceptance in helping to quickly develop preferred goals. Reality therapy suggests that the suspension of judgment (acceptance!) is one of the critical “tonics,” or relationship-building skills. Psychoanalysts talk about the importance of analytic neutrality and empathy in building a relationship in which all feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can be discussed. And even Albert Ellis, not a person typically known for his relationship-building skills, suggests in his rational emotive behavioral approach that clients be shown unconditional acceptance and not be berated for thinking, feeling, and acting in a certain manner.
Genuineness refers to the counselor’s ability to be authentic, open, and in touch with his or her feelings and thoughts within the context and parameters of the helping relationship. Thus, one may not have all aspects of his or her life “together,” but within the counseling relationship, the counselor is real and seen by the client as being in a state of congruence (feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are in sync). Genuineness may also be related to emotional intelligence, which is the ability to monitor one’s emotions, a quality that counselors and counseling students seem to have more than others (Martin, Easton, Wilson, Takemoto, & Sullivan, 2004). Rogers (1957) popularized the term genuineness (or congruence) and noted that it was a core condition in the counseling relationship, along with empathy and unconditional positive regard.
Research by Gelso (Gelso, 2009; Gelso et al., 2005) suggests that regardless of one’s theoretical orientation, there exists an ongoing “real relationship,” in which the client will see the counselor realistically, at least to some degree. This real relationship has at its core the ability of the client to recognize the genuine (or nongenuine) self of the counselor. Genuineness has been shown to be one more quality that is sometimes related to positive outcomes in counseling (Norcross, 2010; Zuroff, Kelly, Leybman, Blatt, & Wampold, 2010).
4. Embracing a Wellness Perspective
Counselor stress, burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and unfinished psychological issues can all hinder the counselor’s ability to have a working alliance (Lawson, 2007; Norcross, 2010; Puig et al., 2012). Such concerns can prevent a counselor from being empathic, lower the ability to show acceptance, lead to incongruence, and increase countertransference, or “the unconscious transferring of thoughts, feelings, and attitudes onto the client by the therapist” (Neukrug, 2011, p. 50).
Counseling students, and counselors in general, all need to attend to their own wellness by embracing a wellness perspective if they are to be effective counselors. One method of assessing your level of wellness is by examining what Myers and Sweeney (2008) identify as the “Indivisible Self.” This model views wellness as a primary factor composed of five subfactors and takes into account an individual’s context. The factors (creative self, coping self, social self, essential self, and physical self) and contexts are described in Table 1.1.
Abbreviated Definitions of Components of the Indivisible Self Model
Total Wellness: The sum of all items on the 5F-Wel a measure of one’s general well-being or total wellness
Creative Self: The combination of attributes that each of us forms to make a unique place among others in our social interactions and to positively interpret our world
· Thinking: Being mentally active, open-minded; having the ability to be creative and experimental; having a sense of curiosity, a need to know and to learn; the ability to solve problems
· Emotions: Being aware of or in touch with one’s feelings; being able to experience and express one’s feelings appropriately, both positive and negative
· Control: Belief that one can usually achieve the goals one sets for oneself; having a sense of planfulness in life; being able to be assertive in expressing one’s needs
· Work: Being satisfied with one’s work; having adequate financial security; feeling that one’s skills are used appropriately; the ability to cope with workplace stress
· Positive Humor: Being able to laugh at one’s own mistakes and the unexpected things that happen; the ability to use humor to accomplish even serious tasks
Coping Self: The combination of elements that regulate one’s responses to life events and provide a means to transcend the negative effects of these events
· Leisure: Activities done in one’s free time; satisfaction with one’s leisure activities; having at least one activity in which “I lose myself and time stands still”
· Stress Management: General perception of one’s own self-management or self-regulation; seeing change as an opportunity for growth; ongoing self-monitoring and assessment of one’s coping resource
· Self-Worth: Accepting who and what one is, positive qualities along with imperfections; valuing oneself as a unique individual
· Realistic Beliefs: Understanding that perfection and being loved by everyone are impossible goals, and having the courage to be imperfect
Social Self: Social support through connections with others in friendships and intimate relationships, including family ties
· Friendship: Social relationships that involve a connection with others individually or in community, but that do not have a marital, sexual, or familial commitment; having friends in whom one can trust and who can provide emotional, material, or informational support when needed
· Love: The ability to be intimate, trusting, and self-disclosing with another person; having a family or family-like support system characterized by shared spiritual values, the ability to solve conflict in a mutually respectful way, healthy communication styles, and mutual appreciation
Essential Self: Essential meaning-making processes in relation to life, self, and others
· Spirituality: Personal beliefs and behaviors that are practiced as part of the recognition that a person is more than the material aspects of mind and body
· Gender Identity: Satisfaction with one’s gender; feeling supported in one’s gender; transcendence of gender identity (i.e., ability to be androgynous)
· Cultural Identity: Satisfaction with one’s cultural identity; feeling supported in one’s cultural identity; transcendence of one’s cultural identity
· Self-Care: Taking responsibility for one’s wellness through self-care and safety habits that are preventive in nature; minimizing the harmful effects of pollution in one’s environment
Physical Self: The biological and physiological processes that compose the physical aspects of a person’s development and functioning
· Exercise: Engaging in sufficient physical activity to keep in good physical condition; maintaining flexibility through stretching
· Nutrition: Eating a nutritionally balanced diet, maintaining a normal weight (i.e., within 15% of the ideal), and avoiding overeating
· Local Context: Systems in which one lives most often—families, neighborhoods, and communities—and one’s perceptions of safety in these systems
· Institutional Context: Social and political systems that affect one’s daily functioning and serve to empower or limit development in obvious and subtle ways, including education, religion, government, and the media
· Global Context: Factors such as politics, culture, global events, and the environment that connect one to others around the world
· Chronometrical Context: Growth, movement, and change in the time dimension that are perpetual, of necessity positive, and purposeful
Finally, although many avenues to wellness exist, one that must be considered for all counselors is attending counseling themselves. Undergoing counseling can help counselors: attend to their own personal issues, decrease the likelihood of counter transference, examine all aspects of themselves to increase overall wellness, understand what it’s like to sit in the client’s seat
It appears that counselors and other mental health professionals understand the importance of being in counseling, as 87% of helpers have attended counseling (Orlinsky, Schofield, Schroder, & Kazantzis, 2011).However, some counselors resist the idea, perhaps for good reasons (e.g., concerns about confidentiality, feeling as if family and friends offer enough support, or believing they have effective coping strategies) (Norcross, Bike, Evans, & Schatz, 2008). So, have you attended counseling? If not, have you found other ways to work on being healthy and well?
5. Cultural Competence
If you were distrustful of counselors, confused about the counseling process, or felt worlds apart from your helper, would you want to go to or continue in counseling? Assuredly not. Unfortunately, this is the state of affairs for many diverse clients. In fact, it is now assumed that when clients from nondominant groups work with helpers from ethnic/cultural groups other than their own, there is a possibility that the client will frequently be misunderstood, misdiagnosed, find counseling and therapy less helpful than their majority counterparts, attend counseling and therapy at lower rates than majority clients, and terminate counseling more quickly than majority clients (Chapa, 2004; Evans, Delphin, Simmons, Omar, & Tebes, 2005; Sewell, 2009). Unfortunately, it has become abundantly clear that many counselors have not learned how to effectively build a bridge—that is, form a working alliance with clients who are different from them.
Clearly, the effective counselor needs to be culturally competent if he or she is going to connect with clients (Anderson, Lunnen, & Ogles, 2010; McAuliffe, 2013a). Although some rightfully argue that all counseling is cross-cultural, when working with clients who are from a different culture than one’s own, the schism is often great. Therefore, cross-cultural competence is a theme that we will visit again and again throughout this text, and I will offer a number of ways for you to lessen the gap between you and your client. One model that can help bridge that gap is D’Andrea and Daniels’s RESPECTFUL counseling model, which highlights ten factors that counselors should consider addressing with clients:
R – religious/spiritual identity
E – economic class background
S – sexual identity
P – level of psychological development
E – ethnic/racial identity
C – chronological/developmental challenges
T –various forms of trauma and other threats to one’s sense of well-being
F – family background and history
U – unique physical characteristics
L – location of residence and language differences (Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D′Andrea, p. 54)
The RESPECTFUL model offers one mechanism through which you can think about clients as you develop your skills as a counselor. Throughout this book, you will find other ways of ensuring that you have a strong sense of cultural competence.
6. The “It” Factor
I worked at a suicide crisis center where one of the counselors had an uncanny ability to make jokes on the phone that would result in suicidal clients laughing. If I had made those same jokes, it would have driven the caller to commit suicide! “So, is there a bridge nearby?” I would hear him say. This counselor had “it”—a way with words, a special voice intonation, and a way of being that would get the client laughing—the suicidal client. And, he knew he had it and he would use it. I knew I didn’t have it—well, I didn’t have his it, so I knew not to try to make my clients laugh. Just listening and being empathic was my way.
I believe all great counselors have their own it factor, although more often than not these great theorists want us to use their it factor. So, Carl Rogers, who was great at showing empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness, suggested we all use these core conditions. Albert Ellis, who was a master at showing how irrational one can be, suggested we all show our clients their irrational thinking. Michael White, who believed that social injustices fueled mental illness, wanted all counselors to look at how individuals are oppressed by language. And of course Freud, who believed in the unconscious, told us to show analytic neutrality to allow the unconscious to be projected onto the therapist. I believe Salvadore Minuchin described this it factor best. A family counselor, Minuchin used the word joining to highlight the importance of each counselor finding his or her unique way of working with clients:
The therapist’s methods of creating a therapeutic system and positioning himself as its leader are known as joining operations. There are the underpinnings of therapy. Unless the therapist can join the family and establish a therapeutic system, restructuring cannot occur, and any attempt to achieve the therapeutic goals will fail.
( Minuchin , 1974, p. 123)
So, what is your it factor? What do you have that’s special and will enable you to bond? Is it the way you show empathy, the way you make people laugh, a tone, a look, or a way of being? Do you have it? (see Box 1.1)
What Is Your “It”?
Write down the unique personality characteristics that allow you to build a bond with others. Then the instructor can make a master list on the board. After reviewing the list, discuss whether the characteristics are inherent and which may be learned. Is it possible for a counselor to acquire new ways of bonding with clients as he or she develops?
7. Compatibility with and Belief in a Theory
There are many theories to choose among when I do counseling, but most don’t fit me. For one reason or another, I am simply not compatible with them. Maybe it’s because they place too much emphasis on genetics, or spirituality, or early child rearing, or maybe they’re a little too directive, or too nondirective. But for whatever reason, they just don’t sit well with me. I am not compatible with them, and I choose not to use them. Thankfully, however, there are enough theories out there with which I am compatible. I drift toward them, and those are the ones I use. Wampold (2010a) says that helpers “are attracted to therapies that they find comfortable, interesting, and attractive. Comfort most likely derives from the similarity between the worldview of the theory and the attitudes and values of the therapist” (p. 48). Wampold (2010a, 2010b) and Wampold and Budge (2012) say that if you are drawn to a theory, and if you believe that the theory you are drawn to works, then, and only then, are you likely to see positive counseling outcomes. So, what theories are you drawn to? If you aren’t sure yet, you’ll have an opportunity to explore this more in Chapter 4 of this book, as well as in other courses where you will examine your own theoretical orientation to counseling. Hopefully, over time you will feel an increased sense of compatibility with and belief in a theory.
Not surprisingly, counselor expertise and mastery (competence) has been shown to be a crucial element for client success in counseling (Wampold, 2010a, 2010c, Wampold & Budge, 2012; Whiston & Coker, 2000). Competent counselors have a thirst for knowledge, and they continually want to improve and expand their expertise about their approach. Such counselors express this through their study habits, desire to join professional associations, participation in mentoring and supervision, reading of professional journals, belief that education is a lifelong process, and ability to view their own approach to working with clients as something that is always broadening and deepening. Competence also means that counselors are not only concerned about their “relationships” with their clients, but also willing to look at the evidence of what works and apply appropriate treatment strategies to client problems (Cooper, 2011). Finally, because these counselors know that they’re doing, they can build expectations with their clients that what they do will help them get better. And, at least in part, these expectations help clients get better (Wampold & Budge, 2012).
Counselors have both an ethical and legal responsibility to be competent (Corey, Corey, Corey & Callanan, 2015). For instance, Section C.2 of ACA’s (2014a) ethics code elaborates on eight areas of competence, including
(1)practicing within one’s boundary of competence,
(2)practicing only in one’s specialty areas,
(3)accepting employment only for positions for which one is qualified,
(4)monitoring one’s effectiveness to ensure optimal practice,
(5)knowing when to consult with others,
(6)keeping current by attending continuing education activities,
(7)refraining from offering services when physically or emotionally impaired, and
(8)assuring proper transfer of cases when one is incapacitated or leaves a practice (see the Appendix).
As Kaslow et al. (2007) highlight, the legal system reinforces these ethical guidelines because “competence is thus the touchstone by which the law will judge” (p. 488).
Finally, clients pick up on incompetence. They can see it, smell it, and feel it. Of course, clients are less likely to improve when a counselor is incompetent. And not surprisingly, incompetent counselors are sued more frequently.
9. Cognitive Complexity
The best helpers believe in their theory and also are willing to question it. This apparent contradiction makes sense. You have a way of working, but you are also willing to constantly examine if your way is working in any given instance. In other words, you are able to reflect on what you are thinking and what you are doing—you are able to consider if you approach is working well for your client (Ridley, Mollen, & Kelly, 2011). Counselors who have this capacity are often said to be cognitively complex. Not surprisingly, cognitive complexity has been shown to be related to being empathic, more open-minded, more self-aware, more effective with individuals from diverse cultures, better able to examine a client’s predicament from multiple perspectives, and better able to resolve “ruptures” in the counseling relationship (McAuliffe & Eriksen, 2010; Norcross, 2010; Ridley, Mollen, & Kelly, 2011). Such a counselor is willing to integrate new approaches into his or her usual way of practicing counseling and is a helper who doesn’t believe that his or her theory holds the lone “truth” (Wampold, 2010a). So, ask yourself: do you have this quality? Are you able to self-reflect, question truth, take on multiple perspectives, and evaluate situations in complex ways? Counselor training programs are environments that seek to expand this type of thinking (McAuliffe & Eriksen, 2010). Hopefully, in your program, you’ll be exposed to such opportunities.
Now that we’ve looked at all nine characteristics, ask yourself: are you empathic, accepting, genuine, wellness oriented, and culturally competent? Do you have the “it” factor? Are you compatible with and do you believe in your theory? Are you competent and cognitively complex? As we start on our journey to help others, let’s not forget to help ourselves—clearly, helping ourselves will significantly improve the manner in which we help others.
APA format, at least 250 words
What do you feel are the greatest problems a counselor faces when working with a group?
What are the greatest challenges in working with a group?
Are the liabilities greater when working with a group than in individual counseling?
APA format, at least 250 words
How might your worldview impact, negatively and positively, your future counseling work with marginalized groups and individuals?